Path of Exile: First Impressions

Shiny! Such shiny! As shiny as it gets in shadowy Path of Exile...

I’m finding it nigh impossible to blog about Path of Exile.

Every time, I start the game going “Ok, today is the day I will take some screenshots and, during gameplay, try to formulate some coherent thoughts with which to begin a blog post…”

…I end up surfacing nearly three hours later with nary a thought in my head beyond having played inventory tetris, trying to figure out the complex barter/vendor system currency to determine if I should identify items before selling or sell them unidentified, plotting the next target skill I want for my character after having explored the next tiny offshoot of PoE’s crazy skill tree, desperately trying to stop myself from the “just one more map, one more quest, one more waypoint” compulsion because it’s way past midnight already.

And barely any screenshots either, because there was just too much action going on.

Really now, be honest, would you stop to screenshot, or would the first thing on your mind be to check out all that shiny loot?

Really now, be honest, would you stop to screenshot, or would the first thing on your mind be to check out all that shiny loot?

Also, Path of Exile is dark.

As in, the aesthetic is grim n’ gritty, grimdark, shadowy dark, and downright gloomy.

It is as filled with black and mud brown and shades of putrescent green and grey as Wildstar explodes with cartoon rainbow laser light show effects.

This is a stated preference by the devs, so it is what it is.

Neither aesthetic is a problem for me, but it might be for you.

And it certainly doesn’t make the game very screenshot friendly.

It sort of reminds me of the period where I played a Dark/Dark defender in City of Heroes

It sort of reminds me of the period where I primarily played a Dark/Dark defender in City of Heroes and through all my spell effects, became a connoisseur of all things dark: darkity dark, dark tinged with green, dark tinged with purple, black tinged with purple, dark lightened with grey, absolute black, and abyss.

My very first few battle encounters in Path of Exile were mostly of the “I can’t see shit, or what I’m hitting, or IF I’m hitting at all” variety.

During my graphics tweaking for performance, I turned off shadows and think it’s a much better visual improvement to not have even more monster-shaped patches of black moving about obscuring the action.

Your field of vision also drops as you lose health, so things can get claustrophobic in a hurry.

Your field of vision also drops as you lose health, so things can get claustrophobic in a hurry.

Despite the lack of photogenic appeal, Path of Exile has a powerful draw in other ways.

Its Diablo roots, for one.

The general gameplay of these types of games involves lots of clicking, lots of mobs that die in a few hits per encounter to make you feel powerful, and waterfalls of loot.

Which you then sift through, learning to ignore the lower tier items and leave them on the ground in short order, and being thrilled to make out like a bandit when you get a lucky desirable rare drop from RNG.

Growing steadily more powerful from leveling, picking up skills and loot with better stats, so you can go to harder areas and kill bosses, which usually have a much higher reservoir of health and more interesting attacks and patterns to learn and overcome.

Plus, the ‘trash’ mobs start their own ramp ups in power, skills used and start using various sorts of movement tactics, etc.

Unsoweiter, challenge and difficulty rising to unimaginable levels, and you eventually finding your way to a comfortable, profitable level of challenge and trying to push  it a little higher when you think you can.

Path of Exile does this very well.

I earlier criticized Neverwinter for being simplistic in its combat, because it mostly involved clicking (or clicking and holding) and waiting for mobs to die.

In Neverwinter, there was very little discernable difference in the pattern while killing kobolds, orcs, magical zombies, or human bandits. There were always little groups of minion health mobs which could be cleaved through using autoattacks or a wide aoe sweep skill.

Periodically one or two medium health melee mobs that would use a three-quarter AoE attack hitting front and sides (solution: dash through mob to get to its back, turn around, continue hitting.)

Periodically one or two medium health caster mobs that would use a targeted AoE attack, centered either around the player or itself (solution: dash out of the AoE field, continue hitting mob when safe to do so.)

Periodically a large slow attacking big telegraph ogre-like mob that would take eons to swing (solution: treat much like melee mob, dash around to its back and whack while it is stuck in a slow frontal attack animation.

The most complex thing I encountered in Neverwinter was attempting to solo the starting five-man dungeon The Cloak Tower with just a cleric hireling and me. This mostly enforced understanding of the above tactics as each mob had larger health bars and so took longer to whittle down.

The trickiest and main cause of initial repeated death was the first boss, who was a caster type who would summon two medium melee types when it got down to 3/4 health, creating overlapping zones of serious damage that became tricky to avoid.

Eventually, I powered through one melee mob using healing potions to get rid of the overlapping kill zone, and proceeded to learn in depth how to best avoid the caster boss – swing three times, completing one attack animation chain, start moving one quarter of a circle clockwise or anticlockwise to move out of the way of the AoE it would cast, swing three times, move again.

In Neverwinter, the skill tree mostly involves increasing percentage damage, or percentage defences. Lateral viable options are lacking, reducing depth.

I have an AoE skill? Well, use it when I have multiple mobs, and just keep spamming it for extra damage because it doesn’t cost me anything to use it regardless.

I have a skill that does damage and heals me for a bit of the damage done? Spam whenever off cooldown.

I have a skill that knocks an enemy prone? Oh. For once, I actually have to think about timing. Let’s use it on vulnerable mobs (aka non-bosses) when they’re starting their aoe telegraph attack so that I have more freecast attack time then! Still spammed whenever off cooldown.

In Path of Exile, you do click, or click and hold, and wait for mobs to die…

…but you probably would have done well to think about exactly how you were planing on getting them to die in the first place.

poe_skilltree

It begins with the crazy looking skill tree – of which this is only a partial shot.

On character creation, you get to pick one of six different classes. (The seventh class, the Scion, unlocks after you’ve nearly played through the standard game once, I believe.)

Three classes are aligned with the major attributes Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence as pure representatives of that attribute. The Marauder is the Strength brute, bringing to mind something hard-hitting and very tanky and armor/resistance based. The Ranger is your Dexterity rep, conjuring images of something fast-hitting, nimble and evasive, possibly using bows or dual-wielding weapons. The Witch is the Intelligence based spellcaster.

Then you have the hybrid classes. A Strength-Intelligence hybrid, the Templar. A Strength-Dexerity hybrid, the duelist. And finally, the Dexterity-Intelligence Shadow.

Each class begins at a different position on the crazy skill tree, so they have easier access to certain traits over others for cheaper skill point cost.

The Scion, of course, sits at the very center, open to all possibilities, inviting massive theory-crafting for those who have finished the initial game and want something even more complex but flexible and high potential.

It’s a little insane to try and grok it all the moment you begin, so I decided not to make the attempt and just settle on focusing on learning about the tiny area my character started out at, and had more immediate access to.

poe_shadow

I picked The Shadow, which is something a little uncharacteristic of me. I tend to like the tanky melee Strength type classes, but thought it might be interesting to see how the other two attributes would fare, as a hybrid.

Turns out, bloody well.

Even in the immediate area, there are options. You could choose to go the intelligence path and bump up stats, or the intelligence route and increase spellcasting attack speed or elemental damage percentage (implying you’re a more caster type of Shadow), or you could go the dexterity route and increase projectile damage (implying shooty Shadow) or one-handed melee weapons (the more up-close-and-personal type) or straight dexterity increases.

From there again, casters could branch into lightning, cold or fire type of improvements to their spells. Melee folk could choose increased one-handed melee weapon physical damage (which also  applies if you’re dual-wielding two one-handed weapons) or dual wielding bonuses.

And nothing whatsoever stops you from going up or downward the tree to pick up some life and mana bonuses, and grab that caster or melee portion, even if you started on the other path to begin with.

On and on, making stuff very complex indeed.

Since I was just beginning and playing on the easiest normal difficulty, I opted to bother less with learning most optimal theorycrafting and just went the “pick what sounds fun” route. The first character can always be ruined in the name of learning the system, after all.

I generally just looked for the nearest big circles and decided what I wanted more of, and aimed to plot the best course towards those desirables.

In this case, I went a stabby style rogue dual-wielding weapons, attacking fast and trying to crit a lot.

I initially left it open in case I wanted to switch from daggers to swords or claws or whatnot, but as luck would have it, I got some rather decent dagger drops and I’m seriously considering specializing now and leaving the other weapons for another character on another playthrough.

poe_reave

Adding to the delightful case of options are the skills.

You pick them up via gems, they’re not automatically given to you when choosing a class or going down the skill tree.

Socketing them into your gear allows them to be used and assigned to various buttons, and again, there appears to be a limit for the number of skills you can have in play at one time – similar to nearly all newer MMOs of the TSW, GW2, Wildstar ilk so that you pick and choose those that best synergize and work for your desired playstyle.

There are additional support gems that can be connected to the skill gems, to give things like increased critical damage or more projectiles, and so on.

Each requires things like having the correct color socket, or connecting sockets, so a whole minigame of using orbs to alter sockets (and stats) as desired is formed to complement inventory tetris.

In this case, Reave became my bread-and-butter mind-blowing attack skill.

As a dual-wielding dagger rogue-alike, I can crit ordinary minion-type mobs for a heavy amount. This skill turns my single target attack into an AoE. That increases in size with  each hit.

A good chain with an onrush of hordes of small mobs becomes a delicious spectacle of mobs exploding in unison.

poe_reaveaoe

Some, pretty far away from where I was standing, even. (My reave has stacked up to 8 times, as indicated in the upper left corner.)

Naturally, I need mana to feed these, so it was natural to start exploring up the skill tree for stuff that gave back mana on kill.

And I started looking for gear that gave back life on hit or kill, because I’m lazy to quaff potions on a regular basis and would rather save them for PANIC situations.

Did I just ruin the game? Did I turn it into a mess of simple clicking to kill things?

Hell, no.

The next couple maps I went through started introducing mobs that leap onto you (necessitating evasive movement through clicking to avoid the leap)

…mobs that shot arrows and moved back when you tried to melee them (separating themselves from aoe attack damage)

…mobs that fired magical projectiles at you (kinda hard to melee kill things if you’ve just caught 10 frost bolts to the face trying to get close)

…mobs that raised a ton of minions (necessitating search and destroy, though the minions were easy enough to carve through with reave) and my favorite…

poe_explode

Exploding mobs.

I highlight this one because it neatly countered the strategies I had developed.

I’d taken to raising minions like zombies and skeletons, because I found it fun and they were handy temporary tanks to shift aggro to, while I ran about and amok in their midst stabbing and killing stuff. (I hear minions are much less viable in the late game, or at higher difficulties, but eh, I’m a ways from that yet.)

Well, exploding mobs blow up minions.

If I go and attack them by myself, they explode, and their explosion takes out other mobs that explode, or my AoE reave explodes them all at once, and guess what… surprise surprise, -I- explode.

This one totally forced a strategy change by learning to -not- attack on sight and let them run close, triggering their explosion animation, which one then quickly ran away from and let them explode by themselves, hopefully taking out all nearby exploders as well.

Boss fight strategies are also different, due to the amount of health they have.

I usually end up stacking a DoT poison-like venom strike, along with ordinary attacking, and running around evasively and quaffing potions like there’s no tomorrow.

I’ve also tried an animate weapon strategy, where I bring in my zombie minions, raise skeletons, and prepare in advance weapons which get thrown onto the ground and turned into animated minions to add damage and deflect aggro.

(Animate weapon is an interesting skill as it sort of makes all the white throwaway loot on the ground relevant again. If it’s a melee weapon, and under the level of your gem, you can sacrifice it and turn it into a minion instead – but you lose the loot drop.)

I have also been dying to try my new situational skill out on a proper boss.

poe_vaalskeleton

This is a Vaal version of Summon Skeletons.

Vaal gems are corrupted forms of a skill gem, that are quite a bit more powerful than the normal version. They’re obtained via little side maps that have additional conditions (eg. increased size of mob spawns, shocking or frost patches on the ground, etc.) to make encounters harder.

For example, the normal Summon Skeletons conjures two skeleton warriors at a time, and limits me to 4 of them in play at once.

The Vaal version conjures an ARMY.

A whole bunch of warriors, a few archers and mages and a general that gives them buffs.

The catch is that Vaal gems require souls to work.

So essentially, you run around killing stuff on the map, building up soul power for your Vaal gem, charging it up for one glorious unveiling – hopefully at a good time.

Sort of like a situational elite.

On a big and populous enough map, you can do it more than once, of course. Just depends on souls… Death death murder kill nom more souls.

And the beauty of it is, not all Shadows need to play how I play.

If I chose differently, I could have been a bowcaster. Lots of shooty, maybe some AoE cold spells to help slow things down for more pewpew. Maybe I would still throw in minions as mobile tank pets.

Or I could have jumped down a sword and shield route and visited the strength and armor side a little more (though perhaps ignoring the intelligence portion may be less effective than beginning a str/dex class indeed, but I -could- do it if I chose.)

Or maybe a dual claw evasive life regen Shadow channeling Wolverine for all he’s worth.

Needless to say, this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the other five classes that I still haven’t played nor seen much of their skill gems or tree yet.

Frankly, the only negative thing I can think to say about Path of Exile is its connectivity issues.

On starting the launcher, it occasionally pops up with a “Connection Failure: Unable to connect to patching server message.” One has to repeatedly launch the game and -hope- that one will eventually contact the patching server at some point.

Strangely enough, I don’t really face disconnection issues once on a map (though some do, according to forum reports, and I’ve had it happen once in a blue moon), but more often face problems during the transition from one map to another.

Sometimes, the server(s) just seem to lose hold of my client and go, “Nope, not talking to you anymore” and I get dropped back to the login screen while changing zones.

This happens on both American and Australian server gateways, so I dunno… Seems like the game just gets temperamental sometimes.

Other times, I play with nary a hitch at all.

Your mileage may vary.

The good news is that the instance states save.

For around 8-15 minutes, even if you leave via portal to go to a town, or unexpectedly fall off the map via disconnecting, what you’ve already cleared stays cleared, so you can run around, travel and make progress with exploration without having to wade through unending hordes.

If you WANT the unending hordes, then ctrl+clicking and zoning in will renew the instance on demand.

Best of both worlds, really.

Payment model-wise, the damn thing is free.

Really. Honest. And the devs hold to what they call “ethical microtransactions” in their store.

Which generally means costuming and visual and vanity perks… like shiny wings and shiny armor.

They do also sell character slots and bank/stash space, but imo, this has been an acceptable ‘convenience’ microtransaction in play for a long time now in assorted games.

You are apparently also allowed to make multiple free accounts to ‘mule’ if you’re unwilling to drop any cash on the game, but I suspect by the time you find the need for that many characters and stash space, you’re committed enough to the game to give them $5-$15 for the peace of mind and convenience of not needing to juggle multiple accounts.

(Still, if you’re a broke and starving student or artist or unemployed, the option is there!)

Conclusion?

I will be playing Path of Exile.

I will be playing it a lot.

Sneaking in time between all the other games on my plate.

It will have a place enshrined in my list of games to play along with Torchlight (and if I ever got around to it, Torchlight 2) where Diablo III did not even get me to buy a copy.

And I suspect a couple months down the road or sooner, alt-holic me will be paying Grinding Gear Games for more character slots because two is never enough, and everyone will be happy…

…living happily ever after in the grimdark land of Wraeclast.

GW2: Twilight Assault First Impressions

For a rusty Aetherblade base, it's really quite pretty...

I like it.

I really do.

I’m also rather torn because it’s set at a level that is distinctly -not- inclusive.

tassault

But let me backtrack, hopefully without too huge spoilers since it’s only the first day:

I like Twilight Assault for its design.

jungle

First off, it’s a lavishly big place, full of beautiful scenery and even a few vignettes where you encounter mobs that aren’t just standing around waiting to kill you.

thebath

There are even a few secret locations to be found.

swimming

I really enjoy that they step up the mechanics bit by bit. Something you learn how to do in the previous room, is used in the next encounter against a boss.

fierylandscape

And on and on, one foreshadowing another, until you reach the final boss, where pretty much everything you’ve learned previously can and may need to be applied.

The storytelling and pacing is excellent in this dungeon. There are some very enjoyable cutscenes, with faint hints of to-be-learned-later secrets.

itsaufo

And if/when you defeat the final boss, the ending cutscene builds in excitement and the whole thing launches into a bonus seqeuence rather reminiscent of the Molten Facility epilogue – except there’s a bit more meaning and additional optional challenge to this one.

The only thing I wonder about is: who am I going to do this with?

This dungeon challenges primarily your understanding of its mechanics and how well you execute the strategies your group devises, and it secondarily challenges your gear (somewhat.)

I’ve PUG’ed this twice – while the first did very well and was enjoyable (through umpteen wipes and one member quitting and being replaced), the second did not go so well and eventually decided to give up at the final boss (through umpteen wipes.)

The main difference between the first and the second is truly what I would term player “skill.”

How quickly each player learns the mechanics, how clearly they communicate this to the rest of the team, how each adapts and responds and changes gear or traits accordingly, how adeptly each player can move and dodge and manage aggro appropriately, and finally how well they work together and coordinate together, splitting up as necessary.

The most important thing in this dungeon that players must know is how to kite. Or lure. Or pull. Whatever terminology is being used. And detarget so as not to autoattack any mob to death anyplace they want at anytime they feel like.

Secondarily, it would be good if they knew how to recognize when it is appropriate to stack or corner pull and valid scenery locations for such, how to prioritize targets of major importance first rather than attack the first thing that target nearest hit, and how to get behind a mob to avoid frontal cone damage.

Oh, and not stand in red circles.

Almost by definition, a number of players that show up in a PUG will fail this criteria.

I do hope that they learn and that this dungeon teaches them. But I honestly don’t want to be the one attempting to teach them this for three hours every run while under fire.

This is a dungeon that does challenge your weakest link.

If your weakest link is busy autoattacking mobs that should not be killed, is off dying regularly and forcing people to stop and rez them, does not know how to recognize when it is their turn to lead a mob somewhere or indeed -how- to lead a mob somewhere in a timely fashion, there are going to be issues.

Significant ones.

I do hope that as time goes by, that people will learn, or at least through heavy natural selection, that the people choosing to attempt this dungeon will be the ones who can manage it more or less.

The good news is that if you get a decent group, the Living Story achievements can be completed in fairly short order.

I’m done with all of them, in fact, and have another backpack I don’t know what to do with. It’s a pretty neat-looking steampunk bronze and green thing, I just don’t have any characters with that color scheme.

This means the two week deadline is not going to be as stressful as certain other dungeon update fortnights.

However, the Twilight Assault dungeon achievements are a whole different kettle of fish.

I assume that they’re more or less permanent, along with the new path, and some may indeed take a while to accomplish. The key to some of the harder ones is probably a super-coordinated group.

And I do like that they’ve put the very desirable miniature as a guaranteed reward for completing them, rather than forcing a whole bunch of reruns that are never going to let you see a miniature firestorm or a monocle. *cough*

Days like this, one wishes one had a regular (and good) dungeon venturing party.

I suppose it’s back to a mix of guilded and random PUG lotteries for me.

GW2: My Charr Guardian and Me

That's the biggest damn chicken I ever saw... I guess the Charr need fairly hefty livestock to feed their appetites.

Part of my problem getting my thoughts in order about this game is that there’s SO much to do, and each thing to do could very well warrant its own post, so where the heck should I begin?

I guess, to get folks situated, let’s start with what I’m playing. I only did two beta weekends before I had my heart set on what I was going to play first and didn’t want to play any more when it wasn’t going to be “for real” and I’d have to do it all over again when beta characters got wiped.

Despite terrible alt-holism in most MMOs, I knew I’d be able to keep it at bay in GW2 for the very first main at least, because this absolutely sang to me and wouldn’t let its hooks go.

Name and Server Musings and WvWvW Stories

I’m playing Finder Blazebane on the Isle of Janthir server. Feel free to friend me if you like. Goldspam whispers will be summarily reported, and ArenaNet is pretty good with their banstick. :)

I tried to make it as Charr lore appropriate as possible, with a reference to my propensity for exploration and finding secrets and otherwise getting into stuff, and a side reference to being a Flame Legion foe. Imagine my amusement when in the very first area during beta weekend, I find a dynamic event to do with the Bane warband. I found it rather fun to run back and forth with them, pretending to be a fourth NPC a while. I guess I’m easily entertained.

In position as rearguard, Sir!

Why the *gasp* reddit server? Well, I joined them on Darkhaven during beta because I like a crowded server, and when they decided to move to Isle of Janthir, I looked carefully at the guilds list to see if I wanted to follow them or stay on Darkhaven.

Also on the consideration list was Sea of Sorrows as the unofficial Oceanic server, and Tarnished Coast for being the unofficial RP server (where most mature, tolerant, PvE-focused folks like to go.)

Being based in Singapore, server choice is fairly hard because at GMT+8, no timezone is ideal. Oceanic servers you’d think would be the best shot, but honestly, most run on Australian timing at GMT+10 or GMT+11 and when they set events at 7pm, one is still at work at 5pm –  it’s impossible to rush home in time and still have a life, as well as a proper dinner.

To be also brutally honest, the Asian gaming community ain’t all what it’s cut out to be. Conventionally, in traditional Asian thought, games are pastimes for children, so one ends up with a majority of teenage boys in their 10s-20s playing (yes, many still schooling), along with a ever-so-slightly more mature group of men and maybe a few women, that maybe aren’t girlfriends dragged in by their boyfriends, but don’t count on it. And the slang, well, I can talk and understand Singlish, but coming from a more Americanized gaming background in my college years of MUDing, it’s as painful as leetspeak is to the eyes.

A bit is fine, it’s still my culture after all, but I don’t want every last conversation I have in game to go like this: “haha lol wah u very xiong hor” (Goodness, you’re very fierce/scary) or “don’t sabo lah, u chao chee bye, this dungeon damn hard already, cannot make it one.” (Don’t screw it up for everyone, you -vulgarity-, this dungeon is already hard enough, we’re likely to fail as it is.)

Obviously, not everyone in Singapore types that way (it’s always the annoying kiddies, ain’t it?) And there are still jerks and assholes in North America (including obnoxiously racist trolls who would tell you to go back to China, u gold farmer – pst, little hint, Singapore’s not in China, and you’ll be surprised how international an MMO is.) Nor can I try to match a 12 hours transposed timezone all the time. Moderation is key. I need a mix.

I decided against Darkhaven as I suspect the crowd would follow the reddit server. Sea of Sorrows also went into the trash can because I’ve followed the Oceanic community since Age of Conan and Warhammer Online and Aion, the same guilds and same faces in PvP are getting a little tiring. Tarnished Coast was much harder to give up, but I feared for the state of WvWvW there because I’m hooked and I need a -fierce- server with ferocious fighting, not one that might just roll over and expose its belly. I may be wrong, maybe it’s a generalization that roleplayers are generally not interested in hardcore PvP pursuits, but… well, time will tell.

To my surprise and contributing to my eventual decision, Isle of Janthir sports a good mix of both North American and Oceanic guilds, including some of the more respectable aussie guilds I’ve met during prior games. It’ll be nice to have them on my side, for once, rather than beating my face in as an organized group versus a PUG. Add on the reddit crowd, and the Isle of Janthir should be able to field a good sized zerg or two and have organized guilds tearing it up at most hours of the day – a more balanced state of affairs in theory than say a primarily Oceanic or NA or Euro server.

In theory, anyway. In practice, we might get wiped out at all times by a foe that can field a bigger zerg at certain times of the day larger than we can, but we’ll see. We got beat on by the Crystal Desert for a couple days since headstart, and Sanctum of Rall was also quite a nuisance, then on the fourth day or so, Isle of Janthir rallied and took the lead.

I had a truly thrilling moment that day because it was my first day in WvWvW and I decided to spend 30 silver, one third of my total fortune, to upgrade our garrison’s cannons. Some time later, Crystal Desert swept in, shattered the outer gate, and as a couple of us trying valiantly to hold off the zerg (our own zerg was elsewhere) fled to the inner gate, I dashed to one of the cannons (if I was going to lose those 30 silver, by god, I was going to put them to use at least once) and presumably a few other players dashed to the oil and the other cannon, and possibly 4-5 of us WIPED out the 30 strong zerg between our AoE cannon fire, that I doubt they were expecting (the gate shattered, they’re fleeing, let’s chase!) Those cannons were hitting for 6000hp a shot, beautifully gruesome.

Even better because it was so unexpected, I was sure we were doomed. But perhaps they ran out of supply to build a ram (not too many people seemed to have grasped the entire concept yet) and they stood in the courtyard in the open long enough for us to catch them in the crossfire, entirely surprising both sides, I guess.

Best 30 pieces of silver spent, ever.

Holding that garrison allowed our offensive zerg to crack open Etheron castle and snatch back the Orb of Power, and began the long sweep of Janthir recovery back across their own Borderlands and get a foothold into Eternal Battlegrounds. Later, Stonemist Castle was taken in a truly stupendous three-corner fight, which saw it changing hands from blue to green while us reds were still locked IN the castle, and wiped out, and rallied back with a second zerg attacking while the first zerg was still on the way back from being wiped out and overwhelming green, which hadn’t had time to get any defences up. Stonemist was proudly red when I logged off.

But goodness knows how things have gone today. I haven’t logged in yet. Things could and do change again in an instant.

Race

Charr. Gotta be. Maybe I’m a closet furry, I’ve always liked playing monster-looking races. I love the big gorilla hulk physique, and even better if it’s got fur, hunches forward and digitigrade legs. Then there’s the history and the lore. Since the days of Guild Wars, when everyone has to be a boring human, I’ve always wanted to play the more interesting monster enemies, Charr, Tengu, etc. To see how they’ve progressed from nearly naked fire-magic barbarism to an almost Saruman-level industrial tech in GW2’s Renaissance day is irresistible. They’re war-like, they’re soldiers, but they also have a “band of brothers” style honor and loyalty that makes them function entirely differently from humans, yet plausibly as an entirely different culture.

Origin and Background

I’ve seen all three Legions’ intro cinematic and they’re all fascinating. It’s been an agony to choose one to follow first, but I’m going with what I did on a whim in the beta weekend. A Blood Legion Guardian first, and an Iron Legion Warrior later, simply to avoid the common cliche of Blood Legion = Warrior. I’ll worry about Ash Legion later.

This makes the Guardian more Ferocious as he’s all about being up in the thick of things, fighting and bleeding, and the warrior can be either charming or dignified as I decide later, as a valuable cog in the great machine of war.

On the same whim, I gave him the background of having a sorcerous sire to explain his Guardian aspect of using magic and flames, and an interesting ‘weakness’ to the character, he’s always had to outgrow the stigma of having a traitorous sire that defected to the Flame Legion as a sorceror.

Appearance

Charracter avatar (pun intended)

I wanted him to stand out a little and look slightly different than most Charr so I went for an interesting white-gray fur color. Pure snow white was a bit too bright and weird for me, perhaps suitable for an albino style necromancer, but a very pale grey-white gave the look I wanted.

I love the heavy armor look in every MMO, lots of metal plates and I don’t mind extra large pauldrons or spikes either, so it was ideal that the class I chose got to wear heavy armor.

Working hard to get to 30/50 in the Hall of Monuments has really paid off, because it opens out some glorious vanity costume options to overlay on top of the merely “okay and presentable” lowbie armor styles. Most of the lowbie armor is a lot of chain and scale mail options, that frankly, only look good in browns and greys and metallic colors, with perhaps a touch of accent color here and there. In my opinion anyway. It’s decent, but it makes you a little drab and blends in with everybody else also wearing the same stuff.

Guild Wars heritage armor? Awesome. The GW1 warrior always got the  best-looking armor, in my way of thinking. It gives a more respectable plate and chainmail armor style in GW2, and I’ve successfully dyed it a dark ebony steel color, as well as the current bronzed look, which I think comes from a random midnight olive drop. I went for a red accent color to represent the Blood Legion, and autumn did fine until I got an almost intangibly slightly brighter red called um, sunset or sunrise, I think, which I used mostly because it wasn’t the default red.

Then there’s my slight fascination with fire and pyromania in MMOs. Since my City of Heroes days, when I chanced upon my dream fire/fire dominator class that got to shoot fire, melee it up with fire, and generally throw fire everywhere, I’ve gravitated to any excuse for fire every since. It just looks SO good.

So imagine my delirious joy to see that the 30/50 HoM point gives these BEAUTIFUL fire god vambraces that give one wristguards that are ON fire.

Sword and focus combination

Words also fail to describe how much I’ve wanted Prince Rurik’s flaming dragon sword since the days of Guild Wars 1, but never played a suitable class that could wield it for long. Ranger and paragon were my mains, and though I dabbled with a warrior in Factions and did give him a flaming dragon sword for a while, it was steadily more obvious that a triple chop axe build with cyclone axe and the works was a lot more effective in bunched up PvE gameplay, so, goodbye, sword on fire. *sobs*

My Guardian now is making up for that lack and it makes me SO HAPPY. (It also conveniently doubles up as a torch in dark caves. I am highly amused that I bring light wherever I go. Someday I should try the dark room in the WvWvW ultimate jumping puzzle dungeon and see if that sword makes a difference. It does also make it quite obvious and readable whenever I switch to ranged scepter – which also looks fantastic with the Wayward Wand skin and glows with a soft blue light as opposed to bright yellow light.)

Scepter and shield

I’m pleased to report that I’ve met a player of an Asura in game who ran past me with my flaming sword, did a double take and went “RYTLOCK, IZZAT YOU?”

And another player in WvWvW who asked what my real level was because my gear looked so impressive. I didn’t have the heart to tell him they were all HoM costume pieces, for fear of disappointing him. (On the bright side, I saw a level 50 player, much much higher than I, who looked like one of those Black Citadel guards in face-covering rhino helmet and all, so there’s still cool stuff ahead, don’t fret.)

Thank you for the compliments, they appeal to my vanity. I try to look cool, what’s an MMO for if not to doll up one’s character?

So nice of ArenaNet to make it possible to look cool from the very beginning as a lowbie. It’s a good reward, isn’t it? Stat-wise, nothing is different. I choose to stop every 5-10 levels to head to the HoM, claim the rewards that just transmute the appearance of the skin to whatever equipment I’ve got. It’s an interruption to leveling, so arguably, those who don’t care how they look don’t need to bother.  I do it for vanity’s sake.

I bet the exclusive dungeon reward skins should also have pretty good appeal if enough players think like me. If everyone runs around with a flaming sword, maybe you’d prefer to show off your, oh I dunno, Orrian dragon purple sparkling lightning sword or something? (Disclaimer: I have no knowledge of reward skins, I just pulled that out of my imagination.)

Class

Guardian, if you haven’t gathered by now. Why? “Because Guardians are OP.”

Nah, not really, though a lot of people seem to think that way, mostly because, I suspect, they tried to go 1 vs 1 PvP with a straight up uber damage build against builds that are by nature of the class damage+support, often in the form of buffs or some slight healing or condition removal. With their innate virtues, they also have a tide more regeneration as long as they don’t fire it off to heal others, and who would do that when you’re 1 vs 1?

Simple attrition warfare will tell you that a class with higher hp and more ways to self heal than thou has a distinct advantage in a straight up duel, assuming no one makes a mistake or is caught unawares, which aren’t the cases all the time in either WvWvW or structured PvP formats with an objective to fight over, rather than elimination of the opposing side. (There’s also having an extra ally turn up on your side that happens all the time in WvWvW.)

Anyway, Guardians are the dream class I’ve always wanted.

There are two general types of people in MMOs, those that prefer melee and those that prefer ranged (along with a hefty helping in the middle of the spectrum of hybrid  folks who like both and like to switch in and out between them.)

I’m distinctly on the melee-preferring side of things, though I enjoy the flexibility of a ranged option when I need to keep my distance or do pulling, etc. The Guardian gives me that opportunity as I can flip back and forth between scepter and sword, dodging in and out of melee range as I deem suitable.

I’ve also always liked tanking, but mostly for the support and control aspects of the role, rather than the awful responsibility of having to know a dungeon by heart and lead a group by their noses through every single damn pull and then sitting around and calling the mob names to keep the mob stuck to either tearing off your face as you stand there still as a stone either nigh impervious to harm (City of Heroes) or desperately trying not to die while praying your healers are on the ball (every other holy trinity MMO)  or biting your backside as you kite it around.

No, what I really enjoy about tanking is the ability to position mobs where you want them, to control their aggro (if only by biting your face off, rather than standing around dazed), to position my sturdy armor-encased self between harm and a softer squishier friend who would much rather I take the hit than him, thanks. It’s helping people, in a sense, it’s support by being situationally aware and controlling the situation.

And while I’ve never liked whack-a-mole healing in holy trinities, I rather enjoyed playing a dark defender in City of Heroes because it wasn’t all about topping off the green health bar (or red, in CoH’s case.) Yes, I had a heal, a strong self-based AoE heal that relied on me being able to position myself near a person in need and hit a mob with it in order to heal anyone near me. It was only one tool in the toolbox of all things support.

Other defenders had really strong buffs to make the team sneakily stronger, I had really strong debuffs to make the enemies sneakily weaker. Amusingly, it took a while for the playerbase to figure this out, it was never really obvious what the non-healing defender was doing on the team, but my goodness, when the defender went AFK or left, the team wiped or got into deep deep trouble doing the same thing they were doing previously. A bit of forums propaganda also helped to change the initial mindset around, along with no doubt, plenty of hard won experience faceplanting when the defender disappeared. Eventually, veteran players learned how to identify buffs and debuff anchors and appreciate them for what they were doing.

A dark defender was also a lot about control as well as support. It had a fear that you could throw on an entire spawn to negate alpha strikes (the in concert ranged retaliation from a whole group of mobs when first aggro’ed), you could LOS position an entire spawn of mobs through pulling with your debuff anchor and hiding around a corner so that they bunched up beautifully debuffed and harmless by the time they came to get you.

One of the things that was always missing in City of Heroes was a class that mixed melee damage and buffs-support. I couldn’t get my scrapper ninja desire going to sword someone in the face at the same time as I was performing support and control functions to protect the team.

I believe Guardians in GW2 are that perfect mix.

No, they aren’t as strong as City of Heroes support/control classes, where often, one control or support class played well – a tank, a defender, a dominator, a controller, a corruptor, a mastermind, whatever – can control the entire spawn of mobs for a team, allowing most of the others to slack off and not doing anything but hit damage buttons if they wanted. (More people playing well and support/controlling means faster, safer killing, of course.)

I think, in Guild Wars 2, the support/control of each class is tuned to only give 1/5 or 1/4 or at most, 1/3 of all the support/control actually needed by a team. I suspect at least 3 players have to be playing with support/control in mind in order to make things doable, and better still if everyone is on the same page. More on this later, I’ve only gone through the first dungeon four times now in PUGs, once successful in beta, one successful on Live (with umpteen wipes) and two failures on the Lovers, and the only thing that’s really obvious is everybody is not used to playing in a Guild Wars 2 way as yet and are still learning what they can do.

But Guardians, well, they sing to me. I went Greatsword guardian in beta, only switching to it when it was safe to leap in and do massive damage to the mob in melee, and then switching back to Scepter and Shield to plink away at range and control/buff. One thing became very obvious though, Greatsword guardians, while perhaps giving a scare and some unexpected burst damage in PvP to players who thought they had my number from seeing my teensy damage on a scepter, are rather squishy in PvE, they seem to pull a lot of aggro and hate the moment they leap into a thick clump of mobs and let fly, often ending the frenzy with a sliver of hp left – if you’re lucky. Perhaps it was also my gear build at the time, I went all out Power for lack of any more understanding.

On Live, I’ve taken a slightly different tack, helped along by the fact that I can’t live without my flaming dragon sword. The Fellblade just doesn’t look as cool. To my surprise, a sword doing fire damage is nearly as effectively offensive as a greatsword, though in more cone attack fashion rather than having a mutilate AoE clump option. I could have gone sword and board, but a shield’s two skills strike me as a primarily defensive option – including one dome pushback I still don’t entirely understand yet, especially how to ‘detonate’ it for healing.

A torch is the Guardian offensive offhand option. While it’s ludicrously fun for AoE damage, you haven’t lived until you’ve spat blue and orange flames like a flamethrower, it doesn’t help with survivability much besides the “kill them all before they get you” strategy.

So I went with the focus as my offhand, which seems a balanced mix of both defensiveness and offensiveness. Both skills can be used for either function. One shoots a straight ray that bounces, giving allies a heal over time (including myself) and damaging mobs. I haven’t mastered the art of healing any party member with it yet, alas, but I have a very good use for it. By being in a mob’s face and swording it, and firing it off, it bounces against the mob, doing damage, and right back into myself, healing me. A decent trickle heal that I’ve noticed allows me to stay in melee “tanking” the mob that bit longer – though honestly, with the way aggro flies from person to person, you can be in the mob’s face and he’ll still turn to shoot another player down, so I have no idea how to manage that except to fire a utility team regeneration buff if it isn’t still recharging, and hope the other players are themselves competent in some fashion and can mitigate their own damage.

The other skill is a shield that can take 3 hits from a mob, and if it doesn’t break, it explodes like an AoE damage bomb. It’s good for absorbing some hits, doing damage, and also combos with the other utility skill I like, Purging Flames (AoE damage field, plus condition removal to allies) to give a stack of three might buffs, which in turns adds to doing more damage on the mob with normal sword autoattacks.

I’ve also altered the stats on my gear a little since beta, mixing a healthy helping of Vitality into the mix along with Power. (I figure, if the WvWvW armor has Power and Vitality stats, there has to be a reason…) This has two positive uses, it increases my overall hp reservoir, giving myself a very decent buffer, and it also increases my healing power – which, since I didn’t want to be a gimpy healing Guardian standing at the back like a pathetic WoW paladin, I initially thought was rather useless and counter-productive, but I’ve since been convinced has the primary effect of helping ME survive by making my heals stronger, including stuff I can aim on myself, and the side bonus of helping others by providing an ever-so-slightly stronger trickle heal a secondary benefit.

I also threw in a bit of Toughness for the hell of it on my gear, to make myself more survivable but I’m really not sure if it’s the right thing to do. Toughness seems to match better with mace and two-handed hammer skills, which are more support defensive oriented, but I have no practice using them and my one attempt to do something with a hammer against the Lovers was really quite hard being unfamiliar with the skills.

I’ve been going Precision and conditional damage on my traits as it matches the offensive sword aspect more, and the Toughness traits are more useless to me. So the result is a neither here or there mix. Still primarily Power, with nearly equal high Vitality, a side helping of Toughness with Precision catching up, but both obviously secondary stats. It’s obvious if I specialized either I’d go more defensive or offensive respectively, but I really can’t decide as yet. Who knows, maybe being a flexible generalist is better for my solo playstyle.

I’m not sure I’ll ever find a good enough group to do the hardmode explorable dungeons anyway, but if I do chance across them, then we can spec as needed then. It’s Guild Wars, after all, where builds can be flexibly swapped to match the situation as needed, mixed with a side helping of WoW, where everything is easily reset by swapping gear and paying a small fee to the trainers.

Mind you, while offensive sword and focus is my preferred fighting style, I keep a scepter and shield on quick weapon switch. This lets me run in and whack mobs until my hp reservoir looks dangerously low (it’s better if I could read the combat animations a little better, some of them have dodgeable front attacks but I’m only 50/50 on successfully avoiding those as opposed to the clearer red aoe rings) then dodge right out, switching to a scepter and whacking an immobilize on it and plinking away, throwing defensive buffs on whoever else is near the mob now that I’m gone, regenerating and healing up until hp is back to full and I can go in and thwap the mob with my sword on FIRE once again.

I doubt the build is perfect. Or even if there is such a thing as a perfect build. All the other Guardian weapons and skills all look good too, to be honest. But I like it, and for now, it’s what I’m using because no one has figured out how to team synergize anything in PUGs yet. I doubt many of us even know what the other classes are capable of.

Eventually, I’m sure stuff will be figured out. All in good time though. It’s a new game, a new set of challenges, a place where no one -knows- anything for certain yet, the metagame is yet to be worked out, the world is big and broad and deep and ripe for exploration. There are so many things one could do. Life is good.